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Back in October, you may recall a piece I did on the history of Broadlands. My research went so deep that I barely touched upon everything I wanted to share, but there was one facet so fascinating to me that I had to revisit, and that was the famous names Lord Mountbatten entertained as guests. From the one and only Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. of Golden Hollywood, to the leading women of Grace Kelly and Shirley Maclaine. I was starstruck at the cinematic icons I learnt to have resided by our town, which made me wonder – what connections does Romsey have to film and television?

It turns out Romsey has several credits for appearing on screen. The first that pops up on the Internet Movie DataBase (IMDB) is The Inspector Wexford Mysteries (1987-2000). This regional crime drama, based on the books by author Ruth Rendell, was shot for the most part in Romsey, which stood in as the fictional Sussex market town of Kingsmarkham. The former magistrates court for example served as the police station, while a selection of streets and houses served as crime scenes and character homes. Furthermore, it was a Hampshire-based production company: Television South (TVS), that created the series for ITV. The titular lead was played by George Baker – his credentials included I, Claudius, The Dam Busters, Miss Marple, as well as roles in James Bond and British War films.

My second find, which won’t be a surprise to older readers, was the original series of Worzel Gummidge (1979-81) – a children’s programme about a talking scarecrow based on the books by Barbara Euphan Todd. Braishfield, Stockbridge, and King’s Somborne all served as backdrops of Scatterbrook Farm and village, which fulfilled the required rural setting. Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee played the rude and silly Worzel, alongside late actress’ Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally and Barbara Windsor as Saucy Nancy.

Although Romsey’s narrative roles end there, both maintain an air of nostalgia amongst a collective of Romsonians. The audio-visual makeup of the borough and surrounding area is only reflective of the county’s overall appeal as a destination for film and TV productions. With historical attractions (Highclere Castle: Downton Abbey), mix of forests (Bourne Wood: Gladiator) and sweeping countryside (Stratfield Saye: War Horse), and idyllic towns and villages (Stockbridge: Wilde) – Hampshire has long been appreciated for its storytelling potential. Blockbusters like Avengers and Mission Impossible to factual programmes like Countryside and Antiques Roadshow have continually visited to explore or transform the diverse landscape into new worlds. And there’s no sign of it slowing down, quite the opposite. Winchester is a prime example of this, arguably boasting the most screen credits in Hampshire. Today’s stars and crews come from afar to shoot on the city’s historic cobblestone streets and buildings. The Cathedral in particular has been used repeatedly for period pieces such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) and Les Misérables (2012). A film map on Visit Romsey – in a blog called ‘Lights, Camera, Action… Romsey!’, goes into better detail of the scale of filmmaking that has gone on in recent years.

The benefits of having this creative activity take place on our doorstep is two-fold: it boosts our local economy and cultural image. You see, film and TV is one of the UK’s leading industries and money makers. According to the BFI, the film and television industry during 2021 ‘delivered an inward investment of £5.64 billion’. With an international reputation built on talent, experience, and state of the art production facilities, Hollywood studios including Disney and Netflix are competitively investing to produce here. Watch a world famous show, namely Game of Thrones or the Star Wars franchise, and you see British actors, British crew, and British locations. Film Hampshire is an example of council services that have been specifically set up to encourage and support filmmakers looking where to create next – no doubt inspired by the long running success of Inspector Wexford.

But as a community, we do love to sit back and watch just as much as participate. The Community Cinema at the Town Hall exhibits newly released films monthly. And our town is immortalised in the collections of both Wessex Film & Sound Archive and British Pathé newsreels, which show Romsey in black and white film with jolly jingo narrations on top. You can also find archival footage from amateur filmmakers uploaded onto YouTube like ‘Colourful Romsey’ or Romsey The Movie, which are quite fun and insightful if you haven’t yet checked them out.

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